The New Faces of Blue Hen Football

New Coach Danny Rocco with some of the in-state talent on his defense: (l-r) Colby Reeder, Grant Roberts and Troy Reeder. Photo Moonloop Photography

In their first season, UD’s head coach and AD have the players believing. The fans may be a harder sell.

Danny Rocco, who seven months ago was picked to lead the Delaware Blue Hens football team, is entering his 34th year of coaching—the last 11 as a head coach in the college ranks.

Football coaching is the Rocco family business, with dad Frank having been a longtime coach at both the high school and college levels; two brothers who spent their lives as high school coaches; and son David, who coaches wide receivers at Western Illinois.

After six years at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., then five seasons with Richmond, Rocco, 57, was hired by first-year Athletic Director Chrissi Rawak as UD’s new head coach in December.

As a head coach, Rocco has never had a losing season, and he doesn’t plan on seeing that streak broken now as he leads the Hens into the 2017 campaign.

Athletic Director Chrissi Rawak arrived from Michigan last May. She hired Rocco in December.
Athletic Director Chrissi Rawak arrived from Michigan last May. She hired Rocco in December. Photo Moonloop Photography

“Success starts with high expectations, and Delaware expects to have a very competitive football team that’s smart, fast, and physical,” he says. “Our focus is on finishing better,” he adds, referring both to individual games and the season overall. “If we can finish better, we’ll be competitive.”

A competitive team is something die-hard fans like husband and wife Brian and Sarah Raughley have been waiting years to see again.

Brian, owner of Dead Presidents in Wilmington, and Sarah are long-time season ticket-holders and have spent many fall Saturday afternoons cheering on their alma mater at Delaware Stadium.

In fact, their midfield box has been in Sarah Raughley’s family for more than 50 years, and three generations of relatives from all over the state regularly gather in Newark for home games.

In recent years, however, both the on-field product and the highly unpopular University of Delaware Athletic Fund season-ticket tariff have dampened their enthusiasm.

“There’s a group of eight of us,” says Brian Raughley, “and one guy was ready to give up his ticket last year.”

That’s partly because Delaware is coming off two dreadful 4-7 years—the first back-to-back losing seasons since 1939—and a six-year postseason drought. One has to go back to 2010, when K.C. Keeler led the Hens to the FCS Championship Game, to relive some of that former Blue-and-Gold glory.

Asked about the slump, Rocco says, “As a coach, I’m always trying to identify problems without attaching blame. A number of things needed attention, including player development.”

Improving this area has been an early focus of his tenure, and seven months in, Rocco sounds upbeat.

“Things are going well. We’re off to a good start,” he says.

His boss agrees.

“He’s done all of the right things so far,” says Rawak. “Rocco’s done a tremendous job and I’m excited about the future.”

As for Brian and Sarah Raughley’s pessimistic box-seat companion?

“He decided to stick it out one more year after Coach Rocco was hired,” says Brian Raughley.

Four Coaches in 62 Years

Delaware football has a storied history that includes national championships, Hall of Fame coaches, NFL standouts and an enthusiastic fan base.

UD accumulated six national titles between 1946 and 2003, and is one of only two schools in the country to have three consecutive coaches enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame: Bill Murray, David M. Nelson (who instituted UD’s famous Wing-T offense and gave Delaware the iconic Michigan-style “winged” helmet), and the now-legendary Harold “Tubby” Raymond, who retired in 2001.

When Keeler took over in 2002—only the fourth head man in 62 years—he brought with him a new offensive philosophy and installed a no-huddle, spread offense in place of the Wing-T.

He took Delaware to its last national championship – its first ever in Division I-AA—in 2003, but his teams lacked consistency over an 11-year tenure. Despite being given a 10-year contract extension in 2008, Keeler and UD parted ways after the 2012 season, when the Hens finished 5-6.

Rocco has made some changes of his own, the most significant being the installation of a 3-4 defense. This alignment dates to his stint as linebacker and special teams coach with the New York Jets in 2000.

He has stuck with the 3-4 because, he says, the extra linebackers add versatility and more depth on special teams. Also, he says, “it’s very hard to recruit defensive linemen at the CAA level.”

Former Concord High standout Grant Roberts, a senior defensive lineman with extensive game experience for the Hens, figures prominently in the new defense. Despite having to adjust to the new coaching staff and a new defense, the Wilmington native expects a big debut for the ‘17 Hens. “We expect to win. We all expect to be successful,” he says.

Roberts, who has 48 tackles (27 solo) to his credit entering his final season, would love to end his college career as a champion, but he isn’t getting ahead of himself.

“Our focus is first getting back to a winning season,” he says.

At Liberty and Richmond, Rocco, 57, never had a losing season. Photo Moonloop Photography
At Liberty and Richmond, Rocco, 57, never had a losing season. Photo Moonloop Photography

When Dave Brock became head coach in 2013, Roberts says, “Everyone was excited and there was a strong vibe going into the future.” But Brock managed just one winning season, and was fired midway through his fourth year. The Hens were 2-4 at the time, en route to another 4-7 finish.

Delaware’s football family is a tight-knit one, and people are loath to criticize Brock for the team’s downturn.

“Coach Brock was great,” Roberts insists.

But things clearly weren’t working and a change of direction was needed, so Brock’s firing wasn’t a surprise.

Roberts is focused on moving forward. “There were definitely some tough games—some of which we should’ve won – but … we had a talented roster even though things didn’t work out.”

Rocco admits the challenge of rebuilding Delaware’s program was one thing that drew him here.

“The biggest challenge was changing the culture and the expectations of the program,” he says. “Delaware lacked a unifying, confident culture among its student-athletes. They didn’t believe they could win.”

Rawak and Rocco are out to change that, and both understand they are “in this thing together.”

“Rebuilding this program,” says Rocco, “is truly a team effort. No one coach can change a culture alone.”

The Hens lost just three starters to graduation, so he sees a solid foundation on which to build.

“We have the right people at the right time,” he says. “I have confidence we can win.”

Rocco enjoyed immediate success at both Liberty University and at Richmond, where he turned a 3-8 team into one with an 8-3 record and a share of the CAA title in a single season.

That turnaround is partly why expectations are high that UD will return to its winning ways this season.  It’s also a major reason why Chrissi Rawak hired Rocco.

Immediate Impact

Rawak was executive senior associate athletic director for the University of Michigan when she was hired as the new AD by first-year Delaware President Denis Assanis last May. She wasted no time in making her presence felt.

A month after firing Brock, Rawak announced that, starting this year, the university would reverse the unpopular policy of requiring a donation to the UD Athletic Fund with most season ticket purchases. The policy, begun in 2011, helped boost UDAF coffers but alienated fans and contributed to a drastic reduction in both season ticket sales and attendance.

Then, in December, Rawak made what may be her most important move as AD to date: hiring Huntingdon, Pa., native Rocco as the new head coach.

Rocco was identified as a candidate early on and has an impressive résumé: in compiling a 90-42 record that includes six conference titles, he garnered four conference Coach of the Year honors and was a national FCS Coach of the Year finalist five times.

Rocco understands and appreciates Delaware football’s tradition, and he hopes to return the program to national prominence. He has his eyes set first on a conference championship. 

“If you’re competing for a conference championship at the CAA level, then you are nationally relevant,” he says. Eight wins would likely get the Hens into the postseason.

The new season begins in Newark on Aug. 31, against Delaware State. While recognizing there are several storylines that will have people talking in the fall—playing defending national FCS champs James Madison (Sept. 30) and Richmond (Oct. 21), both at home—the most important game for Rocco is DSU, “because it’s the next one up on the schedule.”

First Recruiting Class

“Success,” says Rocco, “also comes from identifying, recruiting and developing talent.” He has accomplished that at his other posts, and as a result his teams have won consistently.

At UD, after getting his staff in place, he focused on his first recruitment class, ensuring that the right student-athletes were being brought into the program.

His approach is, first, “to recruit character.” He and his staff look for young people with ambition, who want to succeed both as student-athletes and at life. “We care about our student-athletes as people—about their success on and off the field,” the head coach says.

“They need to be goal-oriented and highly-motivated,” he adds.

He is excited about his inaugural class, announced in late January.

“We recruited extraordinarily well despite a late start and new staff,” he says, noting the process was facilitated by the fact that the coaches themselves were willing to take a big risk on the program. “The families appreciated that,” says Rocco.

Delaware offered scholarships to 15 players; 14 accepted, marking Rocco’s highest success rate to date. Two players who had previously committed to Richmond changed their minds when Rocco left, and followed him to UD.

Rocco’s first group of incoming freshmen includes four wide receivers, a running back, a tight end, a defensive end, a defensive lineman, a defensive back, a linebacker, three offensive linemen and a quarterback.

That group includes offensive lineman Mickey Henry, a Wilmington native out of St. Elizabeth’s, and standout quarterback Nolan Henderson, of two-time Division I state champion Smyrna. The MVP of the annual Blue-Gold Game in June, Henderson holds many state records, including touchdown passes in a career—105.

He adds additional depth at quarterback, following the off-season transfer of J.P. Caruso from Appalachian State. Caruso was expected to compete for the top job with Joe Walker, Delaware’s starting quarterback the past two seasons. Rocco hadn’t decided going into camp in July who his starter would be.

“It’s all about who gives us the best chance to win,” Rocco told The Wilmington News Journal.

Brothers in Arms 

Another position where the Hens enjoy some depth is linebacker, thanks in part to brothers Troy and Colby Reeder, former standouts at Salesianum School. Both are former Delaware Defensive Players of the Year—Troy in 2013, Colby in 2015—and were heavily recruited.

Troy Reeder, 22, went to Penn State, where he started at linebacker as a red-shirt freshman, racking up 67 tackles, an interception and a pass breakup.

Colby, 20, followed in the footsteps of their father, former Wing-T fullback Dan Reeder, and enrolled at Delaware. (Dan Reeder is 12th on UD’s career rushing list, with 2,067 yards gained between 1982 and 1984; he later played for the Pittsburgh Steelers.)

The Reeder brothers were reunited last year when Troy transferred to UD to be with his younger brother. Troy doesn’t regret the decision. He says he and Colby have always been very close and bring out the best in each other. Playing college ball together was something the pair had dreamed of from the time they were little.

Rocco, who himself played linebacker for the Nittany Lions (1979-80) before finishing up at Wake Forest, has high praise for the Reeders.

“They’re doing really exciting work, they’re good role models,” Rocco says. “Troy is exactly what you’re looking for in a football player.”

Troy, a captain of this year’s squad, is excited to be home and starting a new season

“There’s no pressure on the players at all,” he says. “Everyone knows what this team is capable of and that we underachieved last year.”

Colby, who was redshirted his freshman year due to injury, is now healthy and ready to compete for a starting job. “I expect to see significant playing time this year,” he says.

Colby admits to some friendly competition between the brothers in the weight room, but that’s where any sibling rivalry ends. On the field, the more experienced Troy “helps me out a lot, and we work together well,” says Colby.

The Old Guard

For long-time fans, the Reeders may evoke memories of two other well-known Blue Hen brothers—Michael and Joseph Purzycki.

Mike Purzycki (Class of ’67), a standout wide receiver who set multiple records at Delaware, including becoming UD’s first-ever 1,000-career yard receiver, was elected Mayor of Wilmington last November.

Younger brother Joe (Class of ’70), recruited by Tubby Raymond, was an All-America defensive back who recorded a then-record nine interceptions in 1969, his senior year. He returned to UD as a defensive backfield coach under Raymond in 1978, a year before the Hens took the Division II title.

Joe Purzycki was on the search committee that hired Rawak. She, in turn, asked Purzycki, as well as former NFL quarterbacks Rich Gannon and Scott Brunner, for their input when seeking Brock’s replacement.

Rocco says he’s received strong support from Gannon, Brunner, both Purzyckis and others. “They’ve all been great,” he says. “They genuinely care and want what’s best for Delaware.”

Joe Purzycki, whose deep love for UD football is palpable, says of the new head coach, “Rocco is a good fit for UD. He’s cut from the same mold as earlier Delaware coaches. A football coach is who he is.”

Purzycki is impressed with Rocco’s winning record and the turnaround he effected at Richmond. A former college head coach himself (DSU, JMU), Purzycki knows the effort that requires.

Just as impressive, says Purzycki, was that during the search, “everyone who had coached either for or against Rocco over the years had nothing but the highest praise for him.”

“He’s worked for some of the best coaches in the business,” he adds, including former Jets Head Coach Al Groh, and Tom Coughlin, who led the New York Giants to two Super Bowl titles. 

“You can’t be surrounded by such talent and not have some of it rub off on you,” says Purzycki.

If Rocco is feeling any pressure to produce results immediately, he doesn’t let on.

“It’s hard to put a time line on the rebuilding project, but I expect this year’s team to be competitive,” he reaffirms, sounding cautiously optimistic yet enthusiastic about the year ahead.

“You can’t just jam a program into a model and be successful—things need massaging,” he says.

When announcing the hiring in December, Rawak said Rocco’s impact would be felt immediately, but she also recognizes it takes time to build programs. She insists she hasn’t given Rocco a timetable for markedly improved on-the-field performance. But, she says, “When we step on the field, we play to win.”

While acknowledging that the record at the end of the 2107 season will be important, she says she also deeply values the process needed to get to where UD wants to be.

“There is always lots to learn, and the focus is on always getting better,” she says.

For their part, the players—the most important part of the process—are optimistic.

“Something really special is happening,” says Troy Reeder. “The players are buying into [Rocco’s] philosophy of winning each day, one day at a time.”

Blue Hen fans hope the captain is right.

The Meal Kits Experience

Is it for you? To help you decide, here’s an evaluation of some of the leaders in quick, easy, delivered-to-your-doorstep meals

Love for food doesn’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with a love for cooking. That’s one reason why the meal kit has become a massive segment of the on-demand economy, created to introduce home cooks of all skill levels to a convenient (and sometimes quick) way to prepare dinner.

The first meal kit delivery services started in Europe in the early 2000s, and quickly spread to the U.S. as startups like Blue Apron, HelloFresh and Plated began seeking investors. The meal kit has changed the American dinner plate, particularly when it comes to the time spent planning the meal and shopping for ingredients. Why endure the hassle of grocery shopping when you can have a meal with pre-measured ingredients delivered to your doorstep?

The meal kit experience begins by selecting an average of three meals for the week. Every kit includes presorted and pre-measured ingredients and a detailed recipe card. The kits arrive on a specified day, in a large cardboard box, wrapped in an insulated liner with multiple ice packs to keep the contents cool. All kits assume you’ll have the traditional cooking accompaniments on hand—salt, pepper, olive oil, butter and sometimes sugar. It’s rare, but depending on where you live, the meal kit could arrive as late as 8 p.m. on your weekly delivery day, so if you were planning to serve one of the meals that night, prepare for a backup option (pizza, anyone?) just in case.

Here are some tips to help you get the most from your meal kit experience:

• Prep all ingredients before you start cooking. You don’t want to be fumbling for the jar of miso when you need to be toasting sesame seeds.

• Choose your menu wisely. Many meal kit companies allow you to customize your weekly meals a few days prior to shipping. Keep in mind that only certain combinations will be available, depending on your location.

• Most of all, have fun. The meal kit experience is made to serve your needs by saving you time, minimizing food waste, and, most important, delivering a delicious meal to you and your family.

Here’s a roundup of four of the most popular meal kits on the market, in alphabetical order, along with my evaluations.

Blue Apron

Cost:
• Two-Person: $59.94 ($9.99 per serving) for three meals for two people
• Family Plan 1: $71.92 ($8.99 per serving) for two meals for four people
• Family Plan 2: $143.84 ($8.99 per serving) for four meals for four people
• Free shipping

Recipes I tried:
1. Navarin-Style Lamb Meatball Stew with Pea Tips and Carrots
2. Pan-Seared Chicken Verjus with Mashed Potatoes, Mushrooms & Kale
3. Chile-Blackened Cod with Epazote, Avocado and Red Rice Salad

Pros (+) & Cons (-):
+ Vegetarian options for both the two-person and family plans
+ Lowest cost per serving (Tied with HelloFresh)
+ Tasty recipes with a couple of exotic ingredients
– Confusing recipe instructions
– Pre-measured ingredients like the spices and liquids were not for the exact amount for the recipe
– Sloppy packaging; paper bags became soggy in transit

Overall Rating:
Blue Apron was one of the first meal kits to reach the market, and its initial success in attracting investors and subscribers allowed the company to have the lowest cost per serving and protein variety; the six weekly recipes include a beef, chicken, fish and vegetarian option. Overall, Blue Apron’s food was among the best and most innovative from the services I tried. The recipes are fun, relatively easy to follow, and included ingredients that an average chef may not have used before, like the verjus or verjuice, an acidic juice made from unripe grapes, crab-apples or other sour fruit. The Navarin-stew was the first recipe I prepared and it was one of the best of any meal kit I have tried. The other two dishes were solid additions, but were slightly flawed by some of the omitted recipe steps. One of the major flaws was the need for measuring spoons. The so-called “pre-measured” ingredients like spices and liquids had more than the recipe called for, which meant more dirty utensils to clean. For more information, visit blueapron.com.

HelloFresh

Cost:
• Classic Plan: $59.94/$79.92/$99.90 ($9.99 per meal) for three/four/five meals for two people
• Classic Plan: $119.88 ($9.99 per meal) for three meals for four people
• Veggie Plan: $59.94/$119.88 ($9.99 per meal) for three meals for two/four people
• Family Plan: $69.92/$104.88 ($8.74 per meal) for two/three meals for four people
• Free shipping

Recipes I tried:
1. Shrimp Saganaki with Olive Tomato Sauce over Israeli Couscous
2. Chicken Lo Mein with Carrots and Green Beans
3. Pistachio-Crusted Chicken with Quinoa and Chopped Cucumber Jalapeno Salad
4. Sesame Beef Tacos with Quick-Pickled Veggies and Spicy Crema

Pros (+) & Cons (-):
+ Fast prep and cooking times
+ Organized packaging
+ Healthy sized portions
+ Lowest cost per serving (Tied with Blue Apron)
+ Clear calorie information
– Recipes that are not challenging
– Quantity over quality

Overall Rating:
HelloFresh allows home cooks to select from eight meals (premium options have a small surcharge). Meal portions were ample and provided two people enough food for one-and-a-half servings. Every meal was easily prepared and cooked within 35 minutes. Packaging was very organized and most of the plastic bags and bottles can be reused. However, I was frustrated with a couple of the meals, including the Chicken Lo Mein, which basically consisted of cutting vegetables in novel shapes and stir frying them in the pre-measured sauces (no technical prep needed). There was a clear quantity over quality in both the food and ingredients. For more information, visit hellofresh.com.

Plated

Cost:
• Two servings per night: $47.80/$71.70/$95.60 ($11.95 per meal) for two/three/four meals
• Three servings per night: $59.70/$89.55/$119.40 ($9.95 per meal) for two/three/four meals
• Four servings per night: $79.60/$119.40/$159.20 ($9.95 per meal) for two/three/four meals
• Free shipping

Recipes I tried:
1. Cheesy Beef Enchiladas with Avocado, Spinach and Black Beans
2. Chicken Tikka Masala with Garlicky Spinach and Naan
3. Pork and Chive Burgers with Sriracha Aioli and Kimchi Slaw
Pros (+) & Cons (-):
+ Pork and Chive Burger recipe was the only pro
– Recipes lacked flavor
– Basic recipes
– Expensive cost per serving
– Questionable ingredient freshness

Overall Rating:
The Plated meals were a huge disappointment. Straight away, I could tell that they were not going to provide enough food and were not as enjoyable to cook compared to HelloFresh and Blue Apron. Even the dish names didn’t excite, which should have been a red flag. The only redeeming dish in the kit was the Pork and Chive Burgers; with so few ingredients, the burgers came out juicy, flavorful and tender. Thankfully, I didn’t pay full price for my first kit since most meal delivery services provide massive incentives for first-time subscribers. For more information, visit plated.com.

Purple Carrot

Cost:
• One-two persons: $67.98 ($11.33 per plate) for three meals per week
• Three-four persons: $74 ($9.25 per plate) for two meals per week
• One-two persons: (high performance meals): $78 ($13 per plate) for three meals per week
• Free shipping

Recipes I tried:
1. Sweet Pea Flatbread with Truffled Fingerling Potatoes & Kite Hill Ricotta
2. Vegetable Chow Mein with Baby Leeks & Miso Mustard Sauce
3. Blackened Tempeh Chopped Salad with Creamy Ranch & Crispy Tortillas

Pros (+) & Cons (-):
+ Creative vegan dishes
+ Large portions
+ Clear calorie information
+ Quick prep
– Courier delivery
– Cancelling a delivery must be done more than a week in advance
– High cost per serving

Overall Rating:
Purple Carrot’s meal kits are centered around plant-based proteins and ingredients. The portion size for the two-person meal kit fed at least three, and the overall taste was decent. Cost per serving was a bit high, especially since there are no animal-based proteins. Recipes were easy to follow, and written well enough, but keep an eye on things. While making the flatbread recipe, I found that the naan bread started burning only after a couple of minutes in the oven. Meals are sent by local courier on Tuesday and Wednesdays, depending on where you live. This was difficult to track compared to other major delivery services, which provide frequent updates. In addition, if you need to skip a week of deliveries, all the adjustments must be made on the Tuesday prior to the date your order is shipped, which can be difficult for some people. For more information, visit purplecarrot.com.

These are just a sampling of the meal kits on the market. If you try one of the many out there, remember that there are dozens of discounts and coupons available online. Browse around for the best deal. I’d recommend trying at least two weeks’ worth of meal kits in order to give yourself a more holistic view of the service, especially since the first kit can be very generic to appeal to a wider audience. Most of all, please recycle or “upcycle” your plastic bags, containers, and ice packs. For more details, see Blue Apron’s blog at blueapron.com.

Hidden Heroes

Delaware State Parks friends groups, totaling 14 throughout the state with 3,500 members, play a vital—and often overlooked—role

It’s a rare group of people who make the biggest difference but intentionally remain tucked away out of the spotlight. Delaware State Parks friends groups are made up of those kind of people.

There’s the friendly supervisor standing under the scorching summer sun overseeing the Borrow-a-Bike station at Cape Henlopen State Park; the people contributing hours to launch and continue annual chocolate tastings or bike rallies at Trap Pond State Park, and the folks who raise funds and organize huge events like Bellevue State Park’s 40th anniversary celebration on July 2.
The anonymous volunteers who perform these tasks and many more are members of the Friends of Delaware State Parks, a 30-year-old program that is an absolute necessity to keep the parks functioning.

The state has 14 friends groups—all independent, nonprofit entities ranging in purpose from supporting state parks to preserving coastal areas. Not only do friends group members volunteer their time, but they are the fundraisers and advocates who promote, and when necessary, fight for funding on behalf of their parks. Their membership includes retirees and working professionals from various backgrounds, but they are all zealously dedicated to their parks.

While all volunteers play important roles at the state’s parks, friends groups differ from “regular” volunteers by their sheer volume of work. Delaware’s 3,500 friends volunteers put in more than 14,000 hours annually.

Says Glen Stubbolo, Delaware State Parks chief of Volunteer and Community Involvement: “Our friends do so much, and I know they’re not even reporting all hours to us. Many members would tell you they’re just doing it for the park. Delaware is full of these people, who simply just love their parks.”

The role of the friends goes deeper still when you realize that, as an entity, Delaware State Parks receives only about 30 percent of its funding from the state, leaving more than half of the responsibility to the parks and subsequently, friends groups.

Selling Wood—and Wine

Each friends group is structured similarly, with a board and elected officials, and each group interacts closely with state park superintendents, who officially approve or reject propositions, though rejections are rare.

Projects can be as unglamorous as bundling and selling wood from trees knocked down by a bad storm to obtaining bartending licenses and hosting al fresco wine nights. Such is the case for the Friends of Bellevue State Park, where, for the past six years, President Wilma Yu has worked with her small—but mighty—group of 10 volunteers.

“They’re people that really love the park. People come into it with interest in particular areas, and just go for it,” says Yu.

Interest and projects include gardening, working with Bellevue’s equestrian center, road cleanup, obtaining grants, doing restoration work, helping with major events like last year’s Dogfish Head Analog-A-Go-Go, helming the entire Bellevue 40th anniversary celebration, and more. Friends are out at Bellevue during their sponsored and self-run summer concert series every Thursday and Sunday evening, from 5-9 p.m., too.

“They’re such a crazy force,” says Yu.

Thousands take advantage of the Borrow-A-Bike program at Cape Henlopen State Park. (Photo by April Abel, Delaware State Parks)
Thousands take advantage of the Borrow-A-Bike program at Cape Henlopen State Park. (Photo by April Abel, Delaware State Parks)

This enthusiasm stretches across the state. Stubbolo says some of the most ambitious projects to date include the Fort Miles Historical Association’s World War II Fort Miles Museum and refurbished Battery 519. Once completed in the next few years, the museum will be the best in the United States that is located at an authentic World War II Army base.

The list also includes creation of a nature center spurred by Friends of Cape Henlopen State Park, and a multi-year redesign of the Brandywine Zoo, through the Delaware Zoological Society, which Stubbolo calls “a friend and a partner.”

One of the most successful facilities provided by Friends of Cape Henlopen is the free Borrow-a-Bike program, which has become so popular that two other friends groups have adopted the concept. It allows people to borrow a bike to ride within the park and see the sights for up to two hours. Since its start in 1997, Borrow-a-Bike has been operated by friends volunteers and funded by donations. In 2014, bikes were borrowed by more than 13,000 people, and the number rose to more than 14,500 the following year.

“There’s no lack of initiative,” says Stubbolo. “But the small projects are important, too, like at Brandywine, with the creation of a nature play area. It’s all important to us.”

Debbie Chiczewski, Friends of White Clay Creek State Park president, leads 75 volunteers and was the driving force behind applying for and receiving multiple grants totaling more than $20,000 from Christiana REI. Bike repair stations have been installed in three locations throughout the park—at the Judge Morris Estate, Nine Foot Road and the Nature Center. A primitive camp is also in the works.
Additionally, the friends group helps with construction and maintenance of the trails in partnership with Delaware Trail Spinners. The group provides scholarships for park environmental programs for disadvantaged children, which of course requires fundraising.

Delmarva Power workers installing bicycle pumps at White Clay Creek State Park. (Photo Courtesy of Friends of WCCSP)
Delmarva Power workers installing bicycle pumps at White Clay Creek State Park. (Photo Courtesy of Friends of WCCSP)

They also advocate for the preservation of land, organize free summer concerts held at White Clay on Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. at the Carpenter Recreation Area on Rt. 896, and take care of a slew of other details and responsibilities.

Why do all of this for free—especially on behalf of a government entity that arguably should be doing the work?

“You’re out there and you see people enjoying themselves,” Yu says. “You see a 90-year-old lady dancing to the music at a concert, or the joy that people have as they watch little kids as they learn something and their eyes grow big. Those are the rewards.”

That’s not to say there aren’t the usual bureaucratic roadblocks.

“I’ll be honest, there is absolutely frustration,” Yu says. “You always have to be working through the system, and no matter what you do it’s going to take twice as long. You have to make sure everything meets all the regulations, the laws, the ADA compliance, ugh, the bureaucratic chain that has to be satisfied in order to accomplish things can be really trying. We get our frustrations out, sit down and gripe about it, then say, ‘How can we work through this?’”

Statewide Legislative Advocacy

Living in a small state has its benefits, and is something that separates Delaware’s friends groups from other states, according to Stubbolo. While friends groups elsewhere typically function in relative isolation, here, a president in northern Delaware will drive a relatively short distance to chat with a president in Sussex.

The chain of communication is strong between groups, and when legislative cutbacks started to hit the parks a few years ago, they united to form a statewide coalition to show their own power in numbers.

Stubbolo says Yu is the linchpin for the statewide group, which primarily focuses on legislative-level advocacy, contacting elected officials and educating them on the importance of state parks and the economic benefits of parks to the state.

“Many had no idea how many historical preservation, education programs, and all the recreational opportunities that existed,” says Yu. “There are some who are very invested, but there are many who didn’t see parks as a priority until we spoke with them.”

The friends advocacy efforts generated more than $5 million through suggested investment practices (Bill 75) and sponsorships and donations (Bill 88).

Yu, Chiczewski and the other members of the friends groups shrug off any praise for their service.
“We enjoy it,” says Yu. “We do it because we want to.”

Then she points out the obvious: “If the same attitude of comradery and purpose of our statewide friends groups was universal, the world would be a much better place.”

Summer Suds Worth Sipping

A few brews we think you may enjoy

Magic Hat, Bob’s 1st Ale
For crisp, cool summer nights, fruity or wheat beers just don’t seem right. On the other hand, Bob’s 1st Ale presents an interesting alternative: smooth and light but complex, sweet and malty but with some citrusy undertones. As many older drinkers can remember, Magic Hat was one of the original craft breweries on the East Coast. This beer—the first one the brewery created—seems to signal a return to the inventiveness and overall quality of years past. Look for this brewer to revive other classics this year.
Jim Miller, Director of Publications

Epic Brewing, Brainless on Peaches
Over a recent weekend, I enjoyed a new selection from a brewer I had not tried previously: Brainless on Peaches. Epic Brewing Co. out of Salt Lake City produces a fine Belgian-style ale. This beer, a spinoff of one of the company’s decorated recipes, brings a fruitier and wine-like taste to its Belgian staple. I found my bottle at State Line Liquors in Elkton, Md.
— Ryan Alexander, Contributing Designer

Two Roads, Two Juicy New England-style Double IPA
Doesn’t finish as clean as Vermont’s famed Heady Topper, but this New England-style double IPA is a must-try. Great citrus aroma with hints of grapefruit and tangerine. Its 8.2 ABV gets your attention quickly, but that’s standard for this craft category. So mow the grass before—not after—you have one.
— Jerry duPhily, Publisher

New Belgium, Citradelic Tangerine IPA
Citradelic starts out sweet, but mellows out into a well-balanced, medium body IPA. The clean, crisp taste from the citrus and tropical fruit (pineapple) marries perfectly with the outrageous blend of 10 different hops. Available in bottles and cans for easy portability, Citradelic is also available in Exotic Lime, featuring Persian limes, coriander and black pepper.
— Leeann Wallett, Contributing Writer

Dogfish Head, SeaQuench Ale
I discovered SeaQuench style of beer at Dogfish’s Analog-A-Go-Go Music Fest last year. Low ABV, strong flavor and a good, cool face-pucker give this sour gose high marks as a summer refresher. Happy it’s not so hard to find these days.
Joe del Tufo, Contributing Photographer

Mispillion River, Reach Around IPA
This American IPA is available all year, but I like it best during the summer months. Mild for an IPA, this light-flavored, dry, hoppy brew is perfect for day-sipping under the sun.
Matt Loeb, Creative Director

Austin Eastciders, Pineapple Cider
Since beer doesn’t exactly sit with my system so well, I’m going to suggest Austin Eastciders Pineapple Cider, which has slowly started making its way onto the cider scene across the country. I first fell for the Pineapple, but really like the Texas Honey too. Definitely worth trying if you’re into ciders.
— Jim Coarse, Contributing Photographer

Founders, All-Day IPA
It’s summer. It’s hot. But you still want all the hop flavor and aroma you’ve come to enjoy from an IPA, without all that alcohol content that makes you dizzy in the heat. My choice is Founder’s All-Day IPA. You’ll get great floral and citrus hop flavor, but in a session format, so you can go the distance at just 4.7 percent ABV per can. If you’re looking for a full-flavored but low-booze IPA, you just “found” one.
— Rob Kalesse, Contributing Writer

Twin Lakes, Caesar Rodney Golden Ale
I had the opportunity to try this beer at Old New Castle’s Separation Day kick-off party, and I was so impressed that I drank it all night. A nice malty backbone, nice citrusy hop character, and a light color and texture kept me going back for more. Hopefully, this ends up in cans so we can take them to the beach.
— Tyler Mitchell, Graphic Designer

Iron Hill, Gozer
Iron Hill is our go-to spot when the kiddoes are in tow. I was glad to see that they added a gose to the menu this summer. Gozer (named after the local band) is light-bodied and slightly sour with a bit of salt and coriander on the finish. At 4.2 percent ABV, it’s a great beer for a hot summer day.
— Marie Graham, Director of Digital Media

Victory, Prima Pils
This Victory Brewing Company German pilsner, at 5.3 percent ABV, is a summer quencher full of herbal bite and hoppy delight. Balanced nicely between sweet and bitter, it’s refreshing and light. Pair it with fun foods like pizza or barbeque fare and you’re good to go.
— Krista Connor, Associate Editor

Miller Lite with a half-teaspoon of Country Time Lemonade Mix
As we inexorably march toward the heat death of the universe, summers become increasingly unforgiving. A watery, low-gravity beer like Miller Lite is perfect for making sure one doesn’t pass out in the harsh sun and wake up, hungover, in the burn ward. But how does one make it easy on the palate? Country Time Lemonade Mix. For fans of Leinenkugel Summer Shandy, or a “Rattail” (from the German radler).
— David Hazardous, Special Projects

Three and Counting

Lee Mikles and Jim O’Donoghue, owners of Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen, are on an ambitious growth track

When Lee Mikles sold his share of The Archer Group, a Wilmington-based digital marketing firm, his sister predicted that he would either go into politics or open a bar. “A bar,” Mikles says, “seems safer these days.”

Early indications are that he made the right choice.

Most observers would agree that Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen—the downtown Newark restaurant Mikles and friend Jim O’Donoghue opened in July 2015—has been successful. What’s more, in the past few months, the partners have gone from one to three establishments.

As this magazine hits the streets, the partners should have opened Grain H2O in the former Aqua Sol at Summit North Marina in Bear and a second Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen in the old Half Moon Saloon & Restaurant in downtown Kennett Square.

That might seem risky, but growing Grain has been part of the plan from day one. “We always knew that to achieve our goals, we needed to scale up,” Mikles says.

Two restaurants in the same month, however, is a different story, particularly when you consider that the partners had never owned a restaurant before opening Grain.

Still, Mikles and O’Donoghue are no strangers to the world of business, and it is their experience combined with their ability to spot—and seize—opportunities that seems to be their recipe for success.

Growing up, neither Mikles nor O’Donoghue had any idea they would wind up in the restaurant business. Mikles, who grew up in North Wilmington, graduated from the University of Delaware with a degree in electrical engineering and an MBA. His interest in advertising started at an early age. His father was head of marketing for a division of the DuPont Co. that made golf balls. “I got to read his advertising magazines, and we never ran out of golf balls,” he says.

He and Patrick Callahan started The Archer Group in 2003 in Mikles’ basement. By the time they sold it to other partners, the firm had 60 people and counted Wawa and Chase Bank among its clients.

Dreaming of a Restaurant

O’Donoghue’s father was an accountant for Hercules, and his mother was a hospice nurse. “They wanted me to be an accountant,” he recalls. After graduating from UD with a degree in business and political science, he went into finance. He was a first vice president at MBNA, a senior vice president at Bank of America, and the director of the retail segment at Barclaycard. With MBNA, he worked in sports marketing.

The partners-to-be and their families lived across from each other for more than a decade. “We would get together and talk about our shared dreams of opening a restaurant,” Mikles says. “But one drink would lead to another, and we would move on to something else.”

They weren’t total novices. Mikles had worked in Pike Creek pizza shops as a delivery driver and pizza maker. He’d also been a restaurant manager. In high school and college, O’Donoghue worked at such restaurants as the Down Under, Bennigan’s and the Waterfront in Dewey Beach.

In 2015, the timing was right for the friends and their wives, Catie Mahoney O’Donoghue and Kathy Malone Mikles, to realize their dream. “As we continued to flesh out our vision for a restaurant, we felt increasingly confident we could be successful,” Mikles says.

A location became available on Main Street, a stretch that the partners knew well. It was the former site of Mojo Main and East End Cafe on East Main. They took the plunge.

Grain's chicken and waffles dish, from their brunch menu. Grain was named Top 50 Best Brunch Resturants in America by Elle Decor Magazine. (Photo by Matt Urban)
Grain’s chicken and waffles dish, from their brunch menu. Grain was named Top 50 Best Brunch Restaurants in America by Elle Decor Magazine. (Photo by Matt Urban)

The name Grain was inspired by Oliver Evans, who was born in Newport in the 1750s. Mikles learned about Evans when he was president of Start Up Delaware, which seeks to increase tech entrepreneurship in Delaware, and he was impressed. It’s easy to see why. Evans developed an automated flour mill that revolutionized the industry. It was just one of his inventions.

The name also refers to the restaurant’s large craft beer selection. But while it appeals to hop heads on the cutting edge, Grain is also a family-friendly place. And it’s a spot where coworkers can meet after work. In short, there’s something for everyone. “We wanted it to be a melding of good food, good drink and good times,” Mikles says. “Live music was always in the plan, but it’s continued to expand.”

As with the Newark site, timing and availability also came into play with Grain’s new locations. Aqua Sol, they maintain, was a hidden gem on the canal in Bear. “We loved the seasonal potential of the huge deck outside, and the year-round potential of the inside,” Mikles says. “We felt we could successfully bring the Grain brand to the area, with the craft drinks, good food and live music.”

They saw parallels between Half Moon’s location in Kennett Square and Grain’s Newark site. Both are in established communities with people who long to be regulars at a cool-but-casual neighborhood restaurant.

The Importance of Branding

Although the locations are different, they boast the Grain name. Certainly, Mikles, the digital marketing maven, and O’Donoghue, the savvy credit card pro, know more than a little about branding. The three restaurants share the same core menu, which gives the company greater buying power when it comes to ingredients. It also helps with cross-training and moving staff from location to location.

Lee Mikles and Jim O'Donoghue at the first Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen in Newark. (Photo by Matt Urban)
Lee Mikles and Jim O’Donoghue at the first Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen in Newark. (Photo by Matt Urban)

As the partners at Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant can attest, having multiple restaurants is a boon for hiring, retaining and promoting. All of which is critical considering the industry is facing labor shortages in the kitchen. Grain has hired people even before certain jobs were available just so they would not lose them to another restaurant. The company also offers benefits and paid days off.

Despite the same name and core menu, the partners are keen on keeping each site’s local flavor, which is in line with their “neighborhood” philosophy. No doubt, that approach will filter into each restaurant’s approach to philanthropy.

For instance, Grain in Newark has focused on local first responders, including the employees of the police and fire departments. In the restaurant’s First Responder Wing-Eating Championship, policemen compete against firemen to benefit Preston’s Playground, an all-inclusive park that will be on a Newark site. (Organizers are seeking to raise $500,000.) Grain donates $1 for every wing consumed by the contestants or the guests, along with proceeds from T-shirt sales. In April, the police nabbed the championship for the second year in a row. This year they won by just two wings.

What does the future hold for these ambitious restaurateurs? Both Mikles and O’Donoghue admire Iron Hill for its “operational excellence,” Mikles says. The locally based chain has taken the brewpub concept to 13 locations and counting. Although all Iron Hill brands, they are in different building footprints and diverse areas, including Lancaster to Center City Philadelphia.

They also admire Rehoboth Beach-based SoDel Concepts, which has a variety of themes, such as Latin, Italian and seafood, at locations along the Delaware beaches.

“We respect them and want to follow in their footsteps,” Mikles says. “We like the idea of applying operational excellence to different concepts in a certain geographical area. We want to expand the Grain brand and other concepts.”

As the partners run between the restaurants—they call visiting all three in one day “running the gauntlet”—they have yet to consider a limit on their growth. “Right now the great team we’ve got with us is continuing to allow us to grow,” O’Donoghue notes. All options, Mikles agrees, are possible.

It’s Festival Time!

The festival season gets off to a fast start this month, then kicks into high gear in July and continues into August and even September. Here’s a quick guide to help you plan your festive tour through the summer.

June

St. John’s Carnival, June 5-10
Milltown Road, Pike Creek
This summer marks St. John the Beloved’s 51st carnival—the longest running carnival in the state, with more than 20 rides and games, carnival-style food and drinks (including beer and wine for the adults), and nightly live music by the Juveniles, The Unforgiven, Chalice, Best Kept Secret, Secret Sauce and HELIXX. Family Night is Tuesday, June 6, and Alumni Night is June 8. The Hall offers poker and blackjack Thursday through Saturday, a $3,000 raffle on Saturday, June 10, and silent auction items available for bidding every night. The grounds are open 6 to10 p.m. during the week and 5-11 p.m. on Saturday. Admission is free. For details, visit sjbde.org.

Greek Festival, June 6-10
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Wilmington
The 42nd annual Holy Trinity Greek Festival heralds the arrival of Wilmington’s “festival season,” and it’s one of the city’s most popular outdoor parties. For five days, Wilmingtonians fill up on authentic food, ethnic music and lively dance from the Greek Terpsichorean Youth Folk group. Festival bonuses include a free lunchtime shuttle from 9th and Market Streets, running from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the online order/curbside pickup running simultaneously. For details, visit greekfestde.com.

Summer Music Festival, June 9
Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington
The art museum’s outdoor Copeland Sculpture Garden comes alive from 6 to 10 p.m. as it welcomes the sights and sounds of a partnership with the People’s Festival that will feature live reggae, Latin, hip hop and special dance performances from Ginger Coyle, Spokey Speaky, Hockaday and Danza Azteca. Throw in food trucks, cocktails, live artist demonstrations and an army of vendors, and it’s a family-friendly party at a very affordable price. Tickets are $5 for museum members and $10 for non-members; free for youth members and $5 for youth non-members. For details, visit delart.org.

Delaware Chamber Music Festival, June 16, 18, 23 & 25 Wilmington Friends School
For its 32nd season, the region’s premier chamber music celebration brings you Strings & Keys: A Brahms Mini-Celebration. As the title suggests, each concert includes a master work from Johannes Brahms, as well as works from Schubert, Mozart, Stravinsky and more sprinkled throughout the four-performance series. This year, the festival moves to a new venue at Wilmington Friends Lower School and adds a free jazz-themed performance at the Church of Saints Andrew and Matthew in downtown Wilmington. The jazz concert features guest artists Julie Nishimura, piano; Douglas Mapp, bass; Tina Betz, soprano, and the young musicians/composers of the Boysie Lowery Living Jazz Residency Program, directed by Jonathan Whitney. For details and tickets, visit dcmf.org.

Delaware Separation Day, June 9 & 10, New Castle
A full weekend (Friday from 5 to 10 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.) celebrates our 241st year of independence from Pennsylvania and the British Crown. Historic New Castle will be bursting at its colonial seams with food trucks and craft beer stations, an arts and crafts fair, amusement rides like the Coconut Tree and Flying Dragon, as well as pony rides and a petting zoo. A parade down Delaware Street begins Saturday at 11 a.m. And don’t forget about the Beautiful Baby Pageant and live music and entertainment from the likes of the 1st Delaware Regiment, Big Package Band and DJ American Pie Entertainment. A fireworks display closes out the celebration on Saturday night. Details: sepdayde.com.

St. Anthony’s Italian Festival, June 11-18, Wilmington
This year’s festival-goers will experience the charm of Sicily. Italy’s semi-tropical island paradise will be the theme, with accents of lush foliage, volcanic soil surrounding a Mt. Etna volcano, and vibrant artisanal traditions throughout the grounds. The Il Mercato marketplace will feature a variety of Sicilian items, and vendors will include Sicilian specialties such as arancini, a fried rice treat native to the island. The opening Gala concert will fill the air with classical Italian musical selections and a performance by four youth orchestras from throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. In front of St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church patrons can enjoy a captivating light installation provided in partnership with LightAction, Inc. Admission for ages 14-61 is $5; patrons under age 14 (accompanied by parent or guardian 18 or older) and over age 61 are admitted free. For details, visit stanthonysfestival.com.

Last year's DuPont Clifford Brown Jazz Festival. (Photo by Jay Diaz)
Last year’s DuPont Clifford Brown Jazz Festival. (Photo by Jay Diaz)

Dupont Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, June 21-24
Rodney Square, Wilmington
Named in honor of Wilmington’s own Clifford Brown—a brilliant trumpet player, unforgettable composer and dynamic entertainer—the first festival was held in 1988 and has since grown into the largest free jazz festival on the East Coast. The multi-day celebration of the music, culture and art of jazz features artists from all over the world in addition to regional and local talent on the dazzling Rodney Square stage. Details: cliffordbrownjazzfest.org.

Smyrna at Night, June 23
Smyrna at Night is returning to light up the downtown. This free, all-ages celebration kicks off at 5:30 p.m. with live music across multiple stages, including artists Big Ric Rising, Bryan Russo, Lauren & Tinto, Trap Rabbit and Megan Knight; restaurant specials and 16 food trucks (including 302 BBQ, The Plum Pit, Mojo Loco, Benson, Rebel Cove and more); craft vendors and family-friendly fun. For details, visit facebook.com/smyrnaatnight.

New Castle County Ice Cream Festival, June 24-25
Rockwood Park, Wilmington
Billed as Delaware’s “largest family picnic,” this festival allows you to get your scoop of fun for children of all ages along with samples of some of the best frozen treats in the state. It features a variety of vendors, live music, local restaurant samples, crafters and local creameries. Details: rockwoodicecream.com.

July

Pirate Festival, July 8
Kalmar Nyckel Shipyard, Wilmington Riverfront
Ever wonder what it was like to sail the high seas pirating and smuggling, braving dangerous storms and strong currents? Climb aboard the Kalmar Nyckel and learn the real history of pirate life, enjoy re-enactments from the ship’s crews, enter the costume contest or check out model shipbuilding while taking in live music and tasty treats in the park. For details, visit kalmarnyckel.org.

Free Reign Hip Hop Festival, July 14-16
Rodney Square, Wilmington
Formed around the arts education offerings of Street Xpressions, an organization that empowers and educates our community through hip hop culture, music, visual art and dance, this fourth annual event will host daily giveaways, art and dance workshops, group mural painting, emcee and breakdance battles, concerts and more, honoring the legacy of hip hop, the culture that contributed to its rise and the artists it has influenced. It’s free to attend, but donations are appreciated. Proceeds will benefit the Street Xpressions scholarship fund. For details, visit streetxpressions.org.

Delaware Shakespeare, July 14-20
Rockwood Park, Wilmington
“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!” “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers!” The Bard’s most thrilling speeches will fill the “wooden O” of Rockwood Park this July, as Delaware Shakespeare presents its 15th summer festival with Henry V. Featuring some of the most famous and glorious language in all of Shakespeare, this vigorous examination of leadership tells the ultimate against-all-odds victory story. Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors and active military, and $14 for students. Sundays at DelsShakes are Family Nights, where children 12 and under are admitted free. In addition, a fine selection of wines by the bottle will be available for purchase during the festival. For details and tickets, visit delshakes.org.

Shady Grove Music Festival, July 15, Arden
Get shady in the cozy, leafy Village of Arden at the area’s premier festival of local and original music. It began in 2002 as the Arden Music Fest, and has evolved into the first Delaware event to solely promote original talent from the tri-state area. One of the headliners this year is Dover’s Hoochi Coochi. The daylong (noon to 9 p.m.), family-friendly, rain or shine festival is great for kiddos (but, sorry, leave pups at home). Bring a lawn chair or blanket and settle in. Tickets are $20 in advance or at the gate, and children under 12 are admitted free. Food and beverages will be available for purchase. Proceeds benefit the Arden Club’s Gild Hall Restoration Fund. For details and tickets, visit shadygrovemusicfest.com.

The Ladybug Festival, July 20 & 21, Downtown Wilmington
This is how Gable Music gets big things started. One year, it’s a one-night showcase of undiscovered talent. Suddenly, it’s a full-blown, two-day festival, taking over LOMA and the 800 block of Market Street, transforming our city into a legitimate summer music festival destination. This year’s lineup includes heavy-hitters and audience favorites Nadjah Nicole, Angela Sheik, Sweet Leda and Nalani & Sarina, with more exciting artist reveals to come. For details and tickets, visit theladybugfestival.com.

Newark Food & Brew Fest,
July 22, Downtown Newark
This fest is all about celebrating the relationship between culinary arts and brewing sciences. The noon to 7 p.m. event showcases more than 40 craft beers—Flying Dog, Heavy Seas, Troegs, Dogfish Head, Oskar Blues and more—paired with creative offerings from 18 Newark restaurants. Patrons travel from restaurant to restaurant sampling dishes designed to complement featured brews. Music includes performances by two Philadelphia acts—Jason Ager and the Steve Oakley Band—and Elkton’s TreeWalker. Details: visit newarkfoodandbrewfest.com.

August

Riverfront Blues Festival, Aug. 4-6
Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park, Wilmington
This annual affair returns to the Riverfront for its 17th year with three glorious evenings of music spread across two stages. At press time, this year’s lineup hadn’t been released, but we assure you, it’s always incredible. And no matter what, there will be all the delicious barbecue you can possibly digest. Details: riverfrontbluesfestde.com.

August Quarterly Festival, Aug. 20-27
Tubman-Garrett Park
Wilmington’s August Quarterly is the nation’s oldest African-American festival, celebrating more than 200 years of religious freedom, freedom of speech and the right of assembly. This year’s festival begins on Sunday, Aug. 20, with opening church services and continues throughout the week with multiple revival services and a Children & Youth Day and Gospel Explosion on Saturday, Aug. 26. Culminating with “The Big Quarterly” on Aug. 27—commemorating the 1813 founding of the Union Church of Africans, the first African-American Church independently incorporated in the United States—the celebration features the August Quarterly Festival Celebration Choir directed by Wayne Carter, as well as local and regional gospel artists. The evening closes with a performance by the Gospel Music Workshop of America. For details, visit augustquarterly.org.

September

Polish Festival, Sept. 18-23
Wilmington Riverfront
Count us in when the 61st annual St. Hedwig’s Polish Festival hits the Riverfront in mid-September. It’s a fun-filled week of music, dancing, rides, belly-busting food and drink, crafters and more. Who doesn’t enjoy a heaping plate of pierogi, golobki and kielbasa topped off with chocolate babka and chrusciki? For complete info, visit sthedwigde.org.

Fourth Annual Odessa Brewfest, Sept. 9
Historic Odessa
Just south of the canal, a fundraising event for the Historic Odessa Foundation fills the town’s streets on the first Saturday after Labor Day. Crowds enjoy an unlimited sampling of regional and national craft beers as well as locally produced wine and spirits, a variety of food and merchandise vendors, live bands including Spokey Speaky, and more. Festival gates open at noon for the VIP tasting and the regular fest begins at 2 p.m. For more info, visit odessabrewfest.com.

Last year's Taste of Trolley Square. (Photo by Anthony Santoro)
Last year’s Taste of Trolley Square. (Photo by Anthony Santoro)

Taste of Trolley Square, Sept. 30, Trolley Square
This annual trip invites you to “sip, savor, shop and stroll” your way through one of Wilmington’s busiest neighborhoods and nightspots. From 1 to 5 p.m., guests can sample food and drink pairings at nearly every Trolley-centric venue. From Featuring Two Roads & Scotch at Kid Shelleen’s to Oskar Blues, Twin Lakes, Weyerbacher, 20+ Craft Spirits and 30+ Wines at Frank’s Wine to 16 Mile at Trolley Oyster House, there’s surely something to please every food and drink palate. When you’ve had your fill, spend some time (and money) at one of the participating Trolley retailers like Petal Pushers, Bloom or Fabrizio Salon. Admission is free, but you must be 21 or older for alcohol-related tastings. For details, visit tasteoftrolley.com.

Patios With Personality

These 18 spots are worth trying

Bellefonte Café,
Bellefonte
Walk through a shed to the right of the entrance of this funky Bellefonte landmark and you enter the backyard patio. With eight tables, a chimenea and a garden of herbs and vegetables, it’s intimate and homey. On chilly nights, fleece blankets are available to keep you warm. The diverse menu features homemade ingredients and beaucoup choices of sandwiches, paninis, soups and salads. Try the Grilled Cheese of the Week, and, if you wish, an adult beverage. Live music every night.

— Bob Yearick, Contributing Editor

Kelly’s Logan House,
Trolley Square
The patio at Kelly’s Logan House is one of the most enjoyable in Trolley Square—perhaps in all of Wilmington. Located at the corner of Delaware Avenue and North DuPont Street, it offers plenty of outdoor seating and large umbrellas, which provide ample cover from the midsummer sun. The patio also doubles as a great people-watching location and gives off an “in the middle of it all” feel because of its position in the Square. More information on Kelly’s Logan House can be found at loganhouse.com.

— David Ferguson, Intern

The Gables at Chadds Ford,
Chadds Ford, Pa.
There are few al fresco settings better than the patio at The Gables at Chadds Ford. Though the restaurant is located on busy Route 1, the patio is at the rear of the restaurant and is enclosed with a spectacular stone wall. An abundance of plantings and cascading water enhance the setting and create a stimulating yet relaxing setting. You forget all about Route 1—nor do you hear it. The restaurant is situated on land originally owned by William Penn, and the home that now operates as The Gables was one of the first built in the area, around 1745. Ambience abounds inside and out at this destination restaurant, but when the weather turns friendly most patrons opt for the spectacular patio.

— Jerry duPhily, Publisher

The Secret Garden at Penn’s Place,
New Castle
Tucked behind Penn’s Place—the 17th century building where William Penn allegedly spent his first night when he landed in New Castle —this small patio half hidden by delightfully dominant shrubs is a cozy place for a glass of wine, beer or sandwiches and desserts from adjacent Traders Cove Coffee Shop. The space is appropriately titled The Secret Garden, and on summer Saturdays from 6-8 p.m., it’s home to live entertainment such as jazz, comedy nights, acoustic performances and more.

— Krista Connor, Associate Editor

Chesapeake Inn,
Chesapeake City, Md.
During boating season, there is nowhere in the area quite like the Chesapeake Inn in terms of sights, sounds and tastes. Located on the south side of the canal in Chesapeake City, the Inn’s back patio overlooks its sizeable marina and features vast seating space, plus a band stage and multiple bars (including a tiki bar). The kitchen satisfies a variety of tastes with offerings such as crab cake sandwiches, brick-oven pizza, rockfish burritos and sushi—which is good since it’s not uncommon to see yacht owners, tourists, band groupies and recent college graduates all getting down on the dance floor on a summer night.

— Jim Miller, Director of Publications

Cantwell’s Tavern,
Odessa
If you find yourself passing through Odessa with an appetite on a beautiful day, Cantwell’s should be part of your itinerary. This historic tavern takes you back in time and the surrounding tree-lined streets offer a peaceful feeling. With a menu to please kids and adults alike, it’s a win-win. You may even catch some live music if you visit on a summer Saturday.

Matthew Loeb, Creative Director & Production Manager

Ubon Thai Cuisine,
Wilmington Riverfront

In Wilmington, I don’t think there’s a better spot to have a meal outside than on the Riverfront. Couple that with fantastic Thai food, and you have a knockout. Ubon’s patio space in front of the restaurant is great, not only because of the view overlooking the Christina River, but the wood tables and chairs, with comfy cushions, make the experience super enjoyable and relaxing.

Tyler Mitchell, Graphic Designer

Trolley Square Oyster House,
Trolley Square

The folks at the oyster house have managed to maximize this limited space for pleasurable activities. The patio bar offers a plentiful assortment of craft beer, creative cocktails, wine and, of course, oyster shooters. Guests can enjoy a match of giant Jenga while listening to live solo performers and musical duos Wednesday through Saturday nights.

— Jim Miller, Director of Publications

Ernest & Scott Taproom,
Downtown Wilmington

Ernest & Scott’s patio offers a unique vantage point, whether you’re watching the cyclists speed by during the Wilmington Grand Prix or participating in the venue’s Cinco de Mayo street party. It’s also the setting for the successful Smokin’ Joe’s Cigars Under the Stars series and a convenient place to grab dinner before a show at the Playhouse or The Grand.

Jim Miller, Director of Publications

The Whip Tavern,
Coatesville, Pa.

If you’re up for a country joy ride, The Whip Tavern in Coatesville is a destination worth your time. It’s an English-style pub located kind of in the middle of nowhere that offers the classics you’d expect, like fish-n-chips, Welsh rarebit, and bangers and mash, as well as locally influenced specials. The back patio overlooks the woods and a creek, and it’s a pleasant spot to pick a beverage from an extensive beer and cider list and some mussels on a warm day. Before making the trip, check thewhiptavern.com.

— Marie Graham Poot, Director of Digital Media & Distribution

Columbus Inn,
Wilmington

For decades, the covered patio at Columbus Inn has been synonymous with high-profile power lunches and warm-weather happy hours, making its Pennsylvania Avenue location an after-work stop for Greenville and Centreville commuters. It recently has doubled down on the fun by adding a Saturday Happy Hour (5-7 p.m.) and a BBQ & Boil Crab Feast on the last Thursday of the month. Hot fun in the summertime, indeed!

— Jim Miller, Director of Publications

Brew HaHa!,
Trolley Square
Great coffee and enjoyable times go hand-in-hand at Brew HaHa! in Trolley Square. The patio space offers the perfect setting to either catch up with friends or get a jump-start on the next week’s work. Thanks to the fantasy lights and decorative plants in the seating area, the space removes guests from the usual busy energy of Trolley. And thanks to outdoor Wi-Fi and tables big enough for five, it’s the perfect environment to focus on work dates with your colleagues or brunch with friends.

— Tess Beardell, Senior, Wilmington Friends School

Piccolina Toscana,
Trolley Square

Half covered, half-exposed, the patio at Toscana, 1412 N. Dupont St., offers a convenient place to have a business lunch on a sunny day and an inviting setting to eat with family and friends at the $20 Sunday brunch. The patio fountain and thriving plants nearby have a calming effect, if you’re into feng shui or if you’re simply looking for a place to enjoy some coffee and a quick bite at the neighboring To-Go section.

— Jim Miller, Director of Publications

Grain on Main,
Newark
Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen has recently sprouted new locations (See pg. 49), but the flagship location at 270 E. Main, which has an amazing patio, will always be a favorite of mine. It’s covered year-round and enclosed during the winter, and heaters and a fire pit centerpiece keep guests warm on chilly nights. During the summer the center of the tables can be removed to reveal an ice chest, which keeps beverages cold while guests indulge in conversation and tasty items from the Grain menu. For more information, go to grainonmain.com.

— David Ferguson, Intern

Firestone Roasting House,
Wilmington Riverfront

We’ve had visitors from out of town tell us this patio’s views made them feel as though they were in a different part of the world. It’s true, the views of the Christina and the surrounding Riverfront attractions set the mood, while the cuisine consistently delivers smiles. Do yourself a favor…go during sunset.

— Matthew Loeb, Creative Director & Production Manager

The Four Dogs Tavern,
Marshallton, Pa.

This may be a half-hour drive for those in Hockessin or Wilmington, but The Four Dog Tavern’s large outdoor patio, overlooking rolling Brandywine Valley countryside, is well worth the effort. In fact, getting there can be part of the charm if you take the route that passes Longwood Gardens and Northbrook Canoes Co. and empties you into the historic village of Marshallton. As the name suggests, dogs are allowed on the patio and many patrons take the restaurant up on this offer. The food is locally sourced, the menu is American brasserie, and the atmosphere is enhanced with live acoustic music on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. Food for thought: Make The Four Dogs the ending destination for a bike ride – just arrange for someone to meet you there with a car so you can enjoy the ambience with a beer and not have to ride home.

— Jerry duPhily, Publisher

Harry’s Seafood,
Wilmington Riverfront
The patio at Harry’s is one of my favorite places to dine on a beautiful day. The large outdoor area has both covered and uncovered options, and all seats offer a view of the Christina River and the Riverwalk. Add a glass of champagne and some oysters and you’re in for a lovely experience.

— Marie Graham Poot, Director of Digital Media & Distribution

Gallucio’s Italian Restaurant,
Trolley Square

This spring, changing tides brought significant changes to Gallucio’s secluded back patio, now dubbed the Backyard Surf Bar. To re-imagine the space on Lovering Avenue, the restaurant turned to Shannon Stevens, a partner and creative director for both Shiny Advertising and El Diablo Burritos. He brought both bright beach colors and a comfortable, well-worn look to the patio. Look for a totally separate menu from Gallucio’s with offerings like conch fritters and jerk chicken. It’s a taste of the islands in Trolley Square.

— Jim Miller, Director of Publications

 

Hooked

More and more Delawareans and tourists are heading to the bay shore region to enjoy the state’s ‘quieter, wilder side’

Delaware’s bay shore region between Delaware City and Dover is a continually-growing mix of outdoor recreation, wildlife preservation, fishing and crabbing, and now, at historic Fort DuPont, major development. Now, the interconnectedness of Bombay Hook, Rt. 9, Delaware City, Fort DuPont and the Michael Castle Trail should prompt visitors to return again and again to discover all the area offers.

Head south from Wilmington or Newark to the banks of the C&D Canal, and everything changes. The world is a flatter, more breathable place, and the ratio of landmass to development is in stark contrast with the state’s northern reaches, at least for now. Veer off Rts. 13 or 1 to moody Rt. 9, also known as the scenic Bayshore Byway. You’ll be greeted by an unrefined beauty, featuring watchful waterside towns set back from the road. I make the drive to Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge one recent spring morning, sharing the lanes with binocular-clad birders and backroad-cruising motorcyclists in pursuit of their contrasting hobbies.

This area, known as the Delaware Bay shoreline and internationally recognized for its ecological significance, stretches from Pea Patch Island to Cape Henlopen, although the 30-mile-plus stretch along the coast between Delaware City and Dover is of particular interest right now. Its expansive coastal marshes and forests provide diverse habitat to many species, including thousands of migratory shorebirds that each year at this time flock to the area to rest and feed on their way north from South America.

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s launch of the Delaware Bayshore Initiative (DBI) a few years ago is enhancing the region’s growing reputation as an outdoor destination. DBI Coordinator Anthony T. Gonzon, Jr., says that raising awareness of the bay shore region is a collaborative effort with conservation and wildlife partners like Delaware City’s American Birding Assn. and the Delmarva Ornithological Society. What’s more, the completion of the C&D Canal Michael Castle Trail and major developmental plans at Fort DuPont are turning heads from all directions.

“Experience it. We like to say, ‘Come explore Delaware’s quieter wilder side,’” says Gonzon.
One budding trend, aside from photography, cycling and birding, is water-themed adventure: canoeing and kayaking in the area’s tidal creeks and rivers. Take Blackbird Creek Reserve in Townsend, for instance, which now has an updated boat launch, thanks to DNREC.

“If you’re really feeling adventurous, you can even take the creek all the way out to the Delaware Bay,” says Gonzon. Duly noted.

Bombay Hook and the May Shorebirds

Pea Patch Island is known for its fascinating role in history at Fort Delaware, but it’s also a place of natural beauty. (Photo by Krista Connor)

Bombay Hook, celebrating 80 years this year, is active as ever in creating a haven for migratory birds. At the refuge, I embark on an enjoyable 12-mile wildlife drive, witnessing a carnival of creatures —ducks, woodpeckers, and, as promised at the information center, resident herons and egrets perched rigidly in the brackish waters. Tiny turtles scuttle across sun-drenched paths. It’s not hard to imagine why Bombay Hook attracts on average 100,000 visitors a year, primarily birders and wildlife photographers, according to Outdoor Recreational Planner Tina Watson. Although a new subset of enthusiasts is building: young families from surrounding neighborhoods that are cropping up in the area, says Watson.

Though the largest wildlife preserve around, Bombay Hook isn’t the only one. Situated off the Bayshore Byway, smaller tracts of preserved land punctuate the marshes and estuary. They include Augustine Wildlife Area, Woodland Beach, and Cedar Swamp Wildlife Area, totaling well over 3,000 acres. While equipped for hunting, the spots are also ideal for hikes, birding and photography, particularly at Thousand Acre Marsh and on the Port Penn Trail. Gonzon says a new wildlife viewing platform at Port Penn, the Ashton Tract, has become “wildly popular.”

Meanwhile, this month, it’s the migrating shorebirds that swoop in to steal the show, alongside a supporting cast of horseshoe crabs.

“If there’s one thing you need to witness on the bay shore, this is it,” says Gonzon.

He recommends viewing the migrating birds—which feed on horseshoe crab eggs—at Slaughter Beach, the DuPont Nature Center in Mispillion Harbor, or Kitts Hummock, toward the middle or end of May, around high tide.

“There’s no other spectacle like it, certainly in the East, probably in the world,” says Gonzon.

American Birding Assn. Boosts Ecotourism

The bay shore region’s dynamic landscape is an irresistible invitation to naturalists, photographers and explorers. (Photo by Krista Connor)
The bay shore region’s dynamic landscape is an irresistible invitation to naturalists, photographers and explorers. (Photo by Krista Connor)

In this region, it’s easy to see why feathered creatures in particular come to mind, especially since the American Birding Assn. moved its headquarters from Colorado Springs to the Central Hotel in Delaware City in 2014.

Delawareans may remember the antiquated hotel for ghostly visits and decay until the ABA moved in and refurbished it. The small port town’s proximity to larger cities along with its biodiversity made it attractive to the 13,000-member organization. President and Delaware native Jeff Gordon and his wife Liz live in an apartment above the headquarters.

Liz Gordon estimates 2,000 more birders have visited Delaware City as a result of the ABA’s relocation. And with its presence, locals are learning to keep an eye to the skies. At least 100 species can be spotted in the immediate area in just half a day.

Says Bill Stewart, the ABA’s director of conservation and community: “The entire Delaware City and Port Penn area has changed significantly in the past five years,” owing in part to additional access to natural areas that were once off limits, such as DNREC’s Ashton Tract at Thousand Acre Marsh and Port Penn impoundments.

Hidden partly in the shadow of all this development, Pea Patch Island is a longstanding spot for birding and photography. When I take the ferry ride to Fort Delaware, I catch sight of various bird species—and the island provides a gorgeous windswept landscape for photography.

A New “Trail City” Reputation

During my education about all things fowl and swamp, I learn that an ecotone is the spot where different habitats come together, like where a forest meets a meadow. These spaces are rich with diversity. One could make that connection with Delaware City, where the C&D Canal merges with the Delaware River.

Really, Delaware City’s reputation as a sleepy town is only a disguise. Underneath, there’s a subtle buzzing. You hear it in the rumble of the river ferry headed to Pea Patch Island, the newest catch of crabs rustling in their baskets hauled in from the marina; it’s in the swoosh of a cyclist on the expanded Michael Castle Trail; the alert calls of birders brought into town by the ABA, huddled in clusters with their binoculars aimed high; the voices of kids in line at the Ice Cream Parlor; patrons opening and closing the doors adorned with bawdy humor at Lewinsky’s on Clinton and Crabby Dick’s. It’s impossible for this meeting place of recreation and livelihood, hobbies, history and home to be anything other than this: an eccentric waterfront prize and the pin on the map from which everything else emerges. And now, Delaware City Manager Richard Cathcart is proud of his town’s new branding as an outdoor destination.
“It’s quickly becoming known as a trail city. It’s become pretty obvious,” Cathcart says.

In fact, development of a one-mile trail on the Fort DuPont side, called Dragon Run Trail, is in the initial master plan stages and should be constructed within 18-24 months, says Cathcart. The route will run along the east side of town toward Rt. 9, connecting to the Branch Canal Trail, which links to the approximately 14-mile Michael Castle Trail.

The trail twists like a hazy maritime dream through the wetlands, where you’d feel that local lore runs deep, amid swaying tall grass and bobbing fishing boats. Homes worn and faded by sun and time emerge from the isolated banks of the canal, and waterways diverge into streams and bogs. The trail is a totally new perspective to entering Delaware City—far more alluring than driving in.

The Branch Canal Trail was completed last June, and now the connected Castle Trail runs uninterrupted along the canal from Delaware City to Chesapeake City, Md. The path brims with wildlife and lush, at times almost tropical, foliage. Mimosa trees hover over the trail, and electric blue indigo buntings—and herons, and maybe even an eagle, or falcon, or chickadee—can be spotted.

With this byway in particular in mind, it’s no wonder Delaware was ranked the third most bicycle-friendly state by the League of American Bicyclists in 2015.

Development at Fort DuPont

Inarguably the biggest burst of change in the Delaware City area is the total overhaul of the 322-acre Fort DuPont State Park. Until now, the park, located just south of Delaware City off Rt. 9, had seemed under the radar (and a favorite picnic and exploration oasis for this writer). It comprises trails and still-standing military structures that span two centuries and that played roles the Civil War and World War II.

Now, though, the development of a live-work-play-stay community divided into eight districts is transforming the fort and its historic buildings. Residential districts with waterfront views will be built for single-family, townhome, duplex and apartment living. Homes in this phase will go for $290,000 to $500,000, though later options will include some $500,000-plus residences, says Jeffrey D. Randol, executive director of Fort DuPont Redevelopment & Preservation Corporation.

In addition to housing, entertainment and business opportunities will make up an area called the Marina Village district, which will boast a 120-slip marina, restaurants, shops, a boutique hotel, and multiple hiking trails and other outdoor recreation options.

The first phase consists of 100 homes and will be completed over a five-year period, says Randol. The first sample homes should be up by next spring. Other projects within that five-year period include retail spaces, the marina, office space, a performing arts center, a conference center, and a brewery located in one of the old bunkers. Overall, Randol says, the project may represent approximately 500 residents—and maybe more.

“This project is a living community without end,” Randol says.

The community, annexed by Delaware City, will potentially be big enough to double the town’s population of 1,700. A pedestrian bridge will tie the towns together across the Branch Canal.

Redeveloping Fort DuPont will require a seven-foot-high levee to protect the low-lying property. Thus far, the state has contributed $4 million taxpayer dollars to fund the project.

Traditions Endure: Fishing & Seafood

Wiso's Crabs & Seafood has been a Delaware City mainstay since the 1980s. (Photo by Krista Connor)
Wiso’s Crabs & Seafood has been a Delaware City mainstay since the 1980s. (Photo by Krista Connor)

Besides the burgeoning activity around hiking, biking and birding, there are plenty of opportunities for fishing and boating in the bay shore area, Gonzon says. “We make it easier for the public to get to creeks and streams and rivers, have access to beaches.”

He says the fishing piers at Woodland Beach and Port Mahon in Kent County, in addition to Bowers Beach, Broadkill Beach and Beach Plum Island, are fishing havens.

“They put you right where the fish are, and the chance of having a successful fishing outing is really nice,” Gonzon says.

That’s certainly true for Wiso’s Crabs & Seafood, situated on the cusp of Delaware City and the marsh, intersected by the Mike Castle Trail. Just one in a community of seafood mainstays like Kathy’s Crab House and Crabby Dick’s, Wiso’s conveys its nautical theme with a baffling assortment of anchors, fishing nets, helms, buoys and rope that decorate the eatery.

A pile of wooden crab mallets and paper towels wait on the counter for hungry patrons, but not for long. People arrive in droves to pick up their orders.

Owners Bob and Joanne Wiso, who sit at the narrow window bar for a quick chat with me, say that hundreds of bushels of crabs are sold to “tens of thousands” of people each season. Bob —typically referred to as “Cap” or “the Captain” (“Even I call him that,” says Joanne)—expects at least two shipments of crabs a day from Cape May and other regional suppliers during the season.

Most customers’ first order of business is to stop and talk with the Captain and Joanne—my car broke down last week, so-and-so is still in the hospital, I’m heading out on the water tomorrow. The Captain never fails to chat, patting almost everyone on the shoulder.

“They’re all our friends,” says Joanne. “Some started coming in here with their parents when they were kids, and now they’re grown adults.”

The couple is always busy. The Captain checks his watch in anticipation of the next arrival of crabs, then in one long breath recommends the crab cake for lunch and tries to set me up with the guy behind the counter.

The Captain, who grew up in the building that is now Crabby Dick’s, started crabbing when he was a “young lad” of 12, he says, selling $1 dozens to friends and family. He opened his first seafood shop in 1970, after graduating from the University of Delaware with a business degree, although he skipped the graduation ceremony to go crabbing. His budding seafood empire was already a local legend.

Now his team sources seafood from five states. Wiso’s has even caught the eye of at least one former President—George H. W. Bush, who took a ride on the ship Wiso II in 1988 for a news program.
The Wisos’ success in keeping people coming back is no mystery.

“We got the ambiance here,” says the Captain. “We’re just an old crab shack, but that’s what people like. And what keeps them coming back? Well, they love us.”

He laughs and checks his watch. Time for another shipment of crabs.

Visit bombayhook.com for information about events, bird walks, school outings, and more. Go to delawarecity.delaware.gov, dnrec.state.de.us and fortdupont.org for updates on development and initiatives in the area.

The Great Outdoors

Wildlife and recreation destinations worth exploring

Now that warm weather has finally arrived, get up from bingeing on Stranger Things or Orange Is the New Black and get out and enjoy one or more of these natural attractions that our state has to offer and that staff members recommend. You just may find some heretofore unknown gems here.

Hagley Museum
The grounds are a delight for hikers, bikers and photographers. Explore the woods at night to look for signs of nocturnal life. Walks last about an hour. Pre-register by calling 761-6963 no later than 4 p.m. the previous business day; $4 per person. Starting in June, Wednesday evenings are given over to bicyclists and walkers. Visit areas normally closed to foot traffic—$2 per person, free to members and children under 5. Bring a picnic or dine at the charming Belin House Organic Café. Entrance is off Rt. 141 near the Tyler McConnell Bridge.
— Bob Yearick, Contributing Editor

Lums Pond State Park
The only thing my dogs love more than the dog park is Lums Pond State Park in Bear. This beautiful treasure offers an off-leash dog area, and there are trails, fields and water access points for your furry friends to run and swim. Be aware that the off-leash area is not accessed through the main entrance. You can find the entrance on Howell School Road by turning onto the road marked with the Pony Express sign. Just remember to bring extra towels to dry off your canine companions.
— Ryan Alexander, Contributing Designer

Mount Cuba
At about half the size of other former duPont estates such as Longwood Gardens and Winterthur—and slightly more difficult to find—the Mt. Cuba Center is an often-overlooked gem, which is a shame since its wildflower collections and nature paths are unique in this region. In fact, the center boasts collections of trillium and hexastylis that are of national significance, accredited by the Plants Collections Network.
Although not affiliated with the Center, the Mount Cuba Astronomical Observatory is an interesting neighbor to the gardens. It’s Delaware’s only public observatory. Both the center and the observatory offer night classes, and if you time it right, you may be able to do a “Tasting on the Terrace” at the center, then bounce over to the observatory to catch a glimpse of the heavenly wonders above. Located on Barley Mill Road near Hockessin.
— Jim Miller, Director of Publications

Bellevue Park
For the energetic, there are hiking and jogging trails, paved and unpaved cycling paths, a 1-1/8-mile fitness track, and tennis courts. Want a more sedentary activity? Try your luck at the catch-and-release pond stocked with bass, catfish, and sunfish (but make sure you have a fishing license). Or check out the stables; you may catch riders exercising their horses. And don’t forget that picnic basket. Off Carr Road north of Wilmington.
— Bob Yearick, Contributing Editor

Fort Delaware
Many residents don’t realize Delaware has its very own Civil War fort, much less its very own island. A trip to Pea Patch Island, site of Fort Delaware, will introduce you to this intriguing part of state history. You reach Fort Delaware by catching a ferry on Clinton Street in Delaware City. It’s a half-mile ferry ride to Pea Patch. Once there, I recommend the following: Take a picnic lunch (no food service on the island) and enjoy the tranquility of this unique getaway. Hike the easy .8-mile path around the perimeter of the grounds – especially if you’re a bird watcher. Explore the fort itself and learn the role Fort Delaware played in the Civil War (it once housed as many as 9,000 Confederate prisoners) and World War I. It’s open Wednesday through Sunday, May through Labor Day, then weekends into mid-October. Same-day tickets ($12 adults; $7 kids 12 and under) can be purchased at the ferry ticket office, 45 Clinton St. Also, Fort Delaware offers ghost tours throughout the month of October. Reserve early; they sell out. Destateparks.com.
—Jerry DuPhily, Publisher

Valley Garden Park
Valley Garden Park, one of the best little-known parks in Delaware, is tucked along scenic Hoopes Reservoir in the heart of Chateau Country, near duPont family mansions and museums. Walking down from the parking lot is like that moment in young adult fantasy novels where the plucky main characters step through the wardrobe. Every time I’m there, I half-expect to catch a glimpse of a satyr or unicorn. First date slam dunk tip: lie back together on the park’s verdant grass by the softly gurgling creek underneath a cherry tree, and dream.
— David Hallberg, Special Projects

Aquatic Resources Education Center
Located at 4876 Hay Point Landing Rd. in Smyrna in the beautiful Woodland Beach Wildlife Area, the Delaware Aquatic Resources Education Center (ARE) features several ponds and inlets, a 940-foot boardwalk that spans a tidal marsh, and an abundance of local wildlife. The ARE is perfect for a day trip of fishing or for capturing some of Delaware’s aquatic ecosystems and avian population. The ARE hosts activities for educators, field trips for students, and events to introduce kids (and adults) to Delaware’s coastal ecosystems. For more information stop by the ARE office or check out dnrec.delaware.gov.
— David Ferguson, Intern

Huck and a Hike at Iron Hill Park
Iron Hill Park, at 1337 S. Old Baltimore Pike, Newark, is a challenging disc golf course and a cardio-level hike combined into one enjoyable outdoor experience. This course has been called “the best on the East Coast in terms of challenge and overall disc golf experience,” and this certainly holds true. Once you wrap up your round, your legs will remind you that you just completed a “champion level” hike as well.
— Matt Loeb, Creative Director

Brandywine Springs Park
Visit this park off Newport Gap Pike and you’ll discover far more than a pleasant path for strolling. The site was actually an amusement park at one time, reaching its peak during the Edwardian era until it closed in 1923. Prior to its time as an amusement park, tourists were drawn to the site because of mythologized curative powers of the spring. A sprawling and lavish hotel was built—twice—and twice burned down, so unfortunately there are no hotel remains today. Thanks to the nonprofit Friends of Brandywine Springs, though, the trails are clear, safe and peppered with fascinating markers to pique the imagination, encouraging visitors to envision more than the already-intriguing amusement park foundations that still exist on the historical nature walk. Even cooler, the site still undergoes excavation digs with the Archaeological Society of Delaware. Picnic by the stream, go for a run—or dip your hand into the water for a chance of that ancient cure.
— Krista Connor, Associate Editor

Tubing/Kayaking/Canoeing on the Brandywine
My husband decided to invest in a decent river tube a couple of years ago, and we’ve gotten our money’s worth. The trip involves two cars: one parked at the destination and one at the start. We bring some snacks and life jackets, and take off from the area near the intersection of Brandywine Creek Road and Smith Bridge Road near the Delaware/Pennsylvania border, and stop at Thompson Bridge in Brandywine Creek State Park. It’s a pretty gentle trip—sometimes too gentle if the river is really low.
If you’re looking for an organized trip, or canoeing and kayaking on the Brandywine, Wilderness Canoe Trips Inc. offers everything you need, including transportation. wildernesscanoetrips.com.
— Marie Graham, Director of Digital Media

Urban Wildlife Escape
Russell W. Peterson Wildlife Refuge on the Wilmington Riverfront will give you an outdoor fix on a pleasant spring or summer day. I recommend taking a stroll on the Riverfront and add a quick visit to the Wildlife Refuge. It’s one of the few urban wildlife areas in the country and the surrounding views are worth the trek up the Riverwalk. The employees and volunteers share educational facts about the native plants and wildlife that flourisharound the facilities. They also offer some great summer camps that our kids really enjoy.
— Matt Loeb, Creative Director

White Clay Creek Mountain Bike Trails
The many trails of this park have always been a go-to of mine for a morning run, but the mountain bike trails that include shallow dips in the creek, dense patches of trees and open fields are absolute treats. Whether you’ve been riding your entire life or just picked up a bike yesterday, White Clay Creek has a trail that will provide miles of fun for you. Many of the trails have some steep climbs and equally as steep descents and can be a bit dodgy depending on the weather; some may even be closed. Your best bet for finding a fun ride suited to your skill level would be to stop into your local bike shop and ask about recent trail conditions and where you can find a map of the different routes.
— David Ferguson, Intern

Alapocas Run State Park
This park is truly a hidden gem of the city, easily accessible, and has options for a few different activities. On the other side of Brandywine Creek, behind Rockford Park and the Delaware Art Museum, it boasts quite a few trails. Take the forest trails from the Alapocas Ball Fields for a nice nature hike with a few vistas of Brandywine Creek and the surrounding area. Or take the path along the creek to enjoy the water running through short falls and rocks. The park also features Blue Ball Barn, the Can-Do Playground and a rock climbing area. The Northern Delaware Greenway Trail runs right through it, so don’t forget your bike.
— Tyler Mitchell, Graphic Designer

Cape Henlopen State Park
This sprawling refuge of dunes and pine forests is a respite from the surrounding commercialized development, and one of my favorite places to visit in Delaware regardless of the season. I opt for the less-crowded, unpolished stretch of beach at Herring Point, and I never miss the bayside sunset accented by views of the Breakwater Lighthouse, The Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse (pictured) and Lewes. Cape Henlopen also features walking and cycling trails, and new this season, a revamped campground that includes updated amenities, a camp store and more.
— Krista Connor, Associate Editor

Brandywine Park
Not to be confused with Brandywine Creek State Park, Brandywine Park is nestled in the city of Wilmington along the north and south banks of the Brandywine River, between Augustine Cutoff and King Street. It includes walking trails, off-leash dog areas, a beautiful fountain, monuments and gardens, a zoo, and plenty of places for fishing (catch-and-release) and picnicking. It is particularly beautiful in the spring when the trees and gardens begin to bloom.
— Marie Graham, Director of Digital Media

Ashland Nature Center
Ashland Nature Center in Hockessin is the headquarters for the Delaware Nature Society. It’s a great place for any nature lover, but I have found it to be a particularly nice spot for exploring with my kids. It has plenty of well-marked, easy-to-hike trails, small streams and meadows to play in, views of the Red Clay Valley, bathrooms, and a place to fill up water bottles. (The last two attributes should never be taken for granted!) There’s a hummingbird garden, a butterfly house, a bird blind where you can watch quietly as birds fly right to you, and the staff at the nature center is always eager to engage little naturalists-in-training.
— Marie Graham, Director of Digital Media

Leading a Grassroots Movement

After falling just short in his campaign for mayor, Eugene Young continues to advocate for social change through Network Delaware, a new nonprofit coalition

Candidates who lose elections tend to take either of two paths afterward: the road to oblivion or the roundabout that leads to one failed race after another.

Eugene Young, after finishing second to Mike Purzycki by 234 votes in the eight-way Democratic primary for Wilmington mayor last September, is trying to pave a different route—one he hopes will lead to success.

Young, 34, is the board chairman of Network Delaware, a new nonprofit coalition of community organizers, leaders and activists that is trying to spur grassroots involvement to advocate for social change throughout the state. He has a “day job” too, working as advocacy director at the Delaware Center for Justice, a nonprofit whose executive director is Ashley Biden, daughter of former Vice President Joe Biden.

Network Delaware is “very unique in this moment,” says Elizabeth “Tizzie” Lockman, advocacy director for the Christina Cultural Arts Center and vice-chairperson of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission.

The organization is an outgrowth of the political campaign, Young says, a collaboration of volunteers who “doubled down and said ‘we’ve got to get involved’” following their disappointment with the outcome of the November elections.

A week after the election, he says, “about 65 people came out, just to get together, and started to look at ways this could work.” By the end of January, he was able to launch the operation, getting it off on a high note with a rally-like meeting that drew about 300 to the Christina Cultural Arts Center.

Progressive and Charismatic

Lockman met Young about 10 years ago, when the St. Mark’s High School and University of Maryland Baltimore County graduate was organizing a basketball league for Wilmington kids and she was cutting her teeth with several nonprofits in the city. They reconnected two years ago, when he returned to Wilmington after spending two years as an advisor to Cory Booker, first while Booker was serving as mayor of Newark, N. J., and then as a U.S. senator.

Almost from the beginning, she says, she recognized that Young, being both progressive and charismatic, “was somebody who was going to be able to do whatever he wants.”

What Young wants to do now amounts to figuratively turning “the Delaware Way” on its head. Rather than having business and foundation leaders meeting at the table with a bipartisan assemblage of political power brokers, Network Delaware would take a bottom-up, grassroots approach to developing public policy.

While proponents of the Delaware Way tout the relative ease with which key stakeholders in government, business and nonprofit circles can assemble to hash out issues in a small state, Young notes that, with this closeness, “it becomes very easy for a small group of people to become exclusive.”
As it starts out, Network Delaware has no causes. The nature of those causes will evolve, Young says, as the organization listens to its members and learns their concerns.

To those familiar with issue-based organizations, Network Delaware’s mission can be confusing, says Lockman, who is doing some policy advisory work for the group. “They ask, ‘What are we working toward?’ But it’s not a specific issue. It’s building the community, linking it to the civic process and giving them the tools” to become advocates for their causes.

“We’re focusing on what people’s concerns are and finding solutions for those concerns,” Young says. “A lot of people don’t care because their voices aren’t being heard. Our goal is to amplify their voices.”

In some respects, Network Delaware’s intended growth trajectory mirrors the strategy Young employed as the young man who grew up on the city’s East Side and morphed from an unknown political quantity into a near-winner in the race for Wilmington’s highest office. During the campaign, Young and his volunteers knocked on doors throughout the city and churned out position papers on issue after issue.

While the other candidates in the primary had pockets of support in particular neighborhoods—Purzycki, for example, dominated the upper-income areas on Wilmington’s west side, with help from a campaign urging Republicans in those areas to switch party affiliation to vote in the primary—Young’s voters were distributed throughout the city, indicating diverse support by ethnicity and income levels.

Similarly, Network Delaware is drawing members from diverse backgrounds. “We’ve got people of extremely high socioeconomic means and resources to people in poverty, and everything in between,” Young says. In terms of their politics, he says, “we have progressives, we have libertarians, we have some conservatives.”

The organization’s big tent, he adds, “allows people to interact with those who they might not have necessarily met before.”

Everybody has a role to play. “If you’re about justice, if you’re about creating a better community, then you’re with us,” Young says.

Six Working Groups

Young launched the six-tiered nonprofit with the goal of creating social change and commuity leaders. (Photo by William Moree)
Young launched the six-tiered nonprofit with the goal of creating social change and commuity leaders. (Photo by William Moree)

What remains to be seen is what the new group will be able to accomplish. It is organized into six working groups, or “pillars,” each one with a distinct role: base building, an economic opportunity incubator, an electoral politics committee, a leadership development pipeline, a public policy and research institute, and a nonviolent movement building group.

Base building represents the core of the network—getting involved with people on a block-by-block basis, learning about their needs and identifying potential community leaders—while the economic opportunity incubator will focus on training entrepreneurs and developing new small businesses, with a focus on economically troubled neighborhoods.

The electoral politics committee will not only identify, recruit and mentor candidates for public office. It will also develop an “information hub” with political profiles of each lawmaker’s district and a report card system to track voting records of elected officials.

“We’re going to train people to be organizers. We’re going to train people to be candidates. We want to be community-led but outcome driven,” he says.

Serving as a public official is hard work, Young points out. Just as important as holding legislators accountable for their votes is to “provide cover and support when they do the right thing.” If lawmakers suspect that their constituents don’t care, they will be less likely to stick their necks out on controversial issues, he says.

The leadership development pipeline will train leaders for Network Delaware and other organizations, while the public policy and research institute would examine issues, develop a repository of laws passed in other states and adapt these laws to fit Delaware’s context.

The nonviolent movement building group, according to the organization’s website, “will plan resistance to nationalist, authoritarian and undemocratic narratives and actions, while building a unifying vision.”

Having such a unit in the organization doesn’t make Network Delaware part of “the resistance,” the mushrooming array of issue-oriented groups that have expanded or been birthed since the November elections, Young says.

But, he adds, “If you’re not doing what’s right for the community, for the people in this country, we’re going to resist. I don’t believe in blind resistance. We will go issue by issue.”

While the organization may be grassroots and somewhat populist in its approach, that doesn’t mean it’s not business friendly, Lockman says. “It’s pro-business, it’s pro-growth. We just want to make sure everyone has access.”

Young hopes to see Network Delaware grow in numbers, reach and influence. In his view, improving communities is a shared responsibility, with each individual having a role. “If I’m not working to impact the lives of those in our community, whatever happens to them impacts me anyway,” he says. “If I’m in New Castle and a child in Dover is not getting educated, or a family in Milford can’t break out of poverty, that will impact me, whether I like it or not.”

Achieving Systemic Change

Building a statewide network is no small challenge. Building one that has genuine influence is an even greater task.

“When you’re trying to achieve deep systemic change, there’s definitely not an immediate payoff,” Lockman says. “But I have a good amount of faith that it is going to work.”

At this time, it’s fair to say that Network Delaware’s evolution as an organization could well be a significant factor in determining Young’s political future.

During the mayoral campaign, Purzycki and Young occasionally traded sharp barbs, with Purzycki questioning whether Young had the experience necessary to handle the job. Despite their differences during the campaign, Young now describes their relationship as “very cordial.”

While there was some post-primary speculation that Purzycki might offer Young a position in his administration, that never happened. “If he thought there was a role for me, he could ask, and I would consider it,” Young says. “I want him to be successful.”

For now, Young isn’t thinking about another campaign, even though he has gotten some mentions as a possible senatorial candidate if Tom Carper doesn’t seek re-election in 2018, or as a repeat mayoral candidate in 2020 if Purzycki doesn’t try for a second term.

Young’s current priorities are his work with the Delaware Center for Justice and growing Network Delaware. “I’ve got a lot on my plate right now,” he says.

“It takes a lot out of you to run for office. I put my family through enough,” he says, referring to his wife, Nicole, who earned her Ph.D. during the campaign and is on the business faculty at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., and his daughter, Madison, who celebrated her second birthday in March.

“Anything I do, I have to be sure, I have to feel it in my gut,” he says. “It’s not a plaything. It’s not about wanting power, prestige or money. It has to be something you believe in.”